At last week's National Boy Scout Jamboree, many of the scouts who met Rocky Garcia, a 15-year-old from San Antonio, assumed that he had just come to the United States. "I've had scoutmasters come and ask me, 'Can you translate this for me?' But I can't speak Spanish," said Garcia, who was born in this country. And Richard Kabalkin, 14, said he was frequently asked "What's the difference between a Christian and a Jew?" Kabalkin, a conservative Jew from Staten Island, N.Y., said, "I told them the only difference is the belief in God and the way we worship him." For many minority scouts, the week-long gathering demonstrated some of the problems the Boy Scouts of America have encountered in trying to overcome what one white scoutmaster called the organization's "ham and cheese on white bread" image. Although the minority presence at this year's jamboree was greater than at previous gatherings, most of the troops were all white, and minority scouts were concentrated in a few units -- particularly those from large cities. The official program for the week-long gathering set aside Sunday morning for church services. Boy Scout officials said that economic factors made the Fort A.P. Hill, Va., jamboree less diverse than the organization as a whole, and they pointed to the group's recent efforts to attract more urban youths and attack new problems, such as drug abuse. "I found extraordinary the number of {minority} boys and leaders who were present at the jamboree," said Frank Giles, a member of the Vermont council's executive board. He said that when he attended the 1964 Jamboree, he was the only black scout from the Chicago area. Scouting officials played down the importance of race. "We adults who like to put labels might ask 'Why don't you have this represented,' " said Lorenzo Santiago, who is Hispanic and heads the Northeast region's Hispanic outreach committee. "From the kids' standpoint, they don't know they are not represented." Many of the 35,000 scouts and adult leaders live in communities that have little ethnic or religious diversity. Unlike the specially created jamboree units, home troops tend to be homogeneous because of their sponsoring organizations, scout officials said. For example, the heavily white Church of Latter-day Saints -- which requires denominations to sponsor Boy Scout troops -- is the single largest sponsor, with 23,277 units. Although minority scouts said that most people they met were friendly, several said they ran into outright prejudice. "There's a guy in our troop who is racist," said Mario Rodriguez, 17, a Mexican American scout. Rodriguez, who is the senior patrol leader -- chief scout -- in his troop, said that during a pre-jamboree meeting, another scout "said Mexicans shouldn't be leaders . . . . On the trip we kind of put some pressure on him, and he admitted he prejudged us." Todd Plotner, 16, a white senior patrol leader, said that there had been a racist incident in his Illinois troop. "We have two kids who are black . . . . One of the kids, who is a bit of a dictator, shoved a white kid to the side, and that kid called him" a racial epithet, Plotner said. "We immediately broke it up, pulled them apart and let them cool down." Boy Scout officials estimate that the ethnic makeup of the 4.2 million Boy Scouts of America is similar to that of the general population, although they keep no statistics. In 1987, 12.2 percent of the U.S. population was black, according to the 1989 Statistical Abstract. About 7.7 percent of the U.S. population -- including some whites and blacks -- identified themselves as of Hispanic descent, and 3.2 percent belonged to other minorities. No ethnic statistics were kept for the jamboree, but Boy Scout officials said that the cost of participating in a jamboree -- $325 plus transportation -- makes the event unrepresentative of the organization. "A jamboree, even though it is a Boy Scout activity, is not something scouts have to do . . . . It's like a vacation. They come if they can afford to pay," Santiago said. Assistant Scoutmaster Samuel Cooper said several boys in his Detroit troop decided not to attend the jamboree because they were saving money for college or a car. "I don't think you'll ever get {jamboree} participation that is not mainstream and middle class," Giles said. The five regional councils attempted to compensate for the high costs by offering scholarships. The Northeast region, which includes the Washington area, divided about $85,000 among 20 of its neediest local councils, said Regional Director Rudy Flythe. Much, but not all, of the money went to minority participants, he said. The Boy Scouts' emphasis on religious activities can have the effect of underlining religious differences among participants. Scouts must swear "I will do my duty to God," and jamboree participants were expected to attend some religious service. The preliminary results of a survey of religious affiliations showed that 1.8 percent of the 26,000 jamboree scouts were Jewish and 90.2 belonged to specific Christian denominations. The most recent U.S. figures for Christian church adherents date to 1980, when 49.3 percent of Americans belonged to a Christian church. About 2.5 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish. The Boy Scouts are making serious efforts to reach out to ethnic and religious minority groups, organizers said. The Northeast region held a May meeting of all its local councils to discuss the problem of minority recruitment, Santiago said. The jamboree featured Buddhist services and a kosher kitchen, and the national organization's coeducational Explorer division has put out a brochure titled "Exploring and your youth group" that is specifically targeted at Jewish youths. Seeking to reach out to new groups, the Boy Scout's Varsity Scout program this year will institute programs in basketball, softball, soccer and volleyball. "It's intended to be an option for young men not ordinarily interested in scouting," said national spokesman Lee Sneath. The Boy Scouts began addressing single-parent families several years ago by allowing women to become scoutmasters. And the organization is finding new ways of reaching members. "We recognize that sometimes we have to deliver the program in school, rather than in the traditional {religious} units," Flythe said. About 23 percent of all scouts participate in troops sponsored by public schools, and another 12 percent belong to troops sponsored by parent-teacher groups. The organization has also identified five "unacceptables" -- illiteracy, child abuse, drug abuse, unemployment and hunger -- and has instituted programs to fight them. President Bush praised the scouts' "Drugs -- A Deadly Game" pamphlet during his visit to the jamboree. The efforts to reach out seem to be working. "I've been in the Scouts for 10 years and things have changed," Rodriguez said. "I had to prove myself by getting more {badges and awards} -- I was the youngest Eagle Scout in my troop's history." But younger Hispanic scouts in Rodriguez's San Antonio troop said they feel they fit right in. The Boy Scouts still have problems to confront. Several minority scouts who joined mixed units said they sometimes feel unwelcome. Greg Gordon, 16, said he is the only Jewish member of his Beaumont, Tex., troop. "Every Sunday on a campout, our scoutmaster wants to do a service. And they always pick a little kid who brings out his New Testament," said Gordon, who worked in the jamboree's kosher kitchen. "I try not to pay attention or make some crack. But they don't understand." Although scholarships can bring inner-city youths to scout camps or jamborees, they cannot always solve rural-urban splits. White, black and Hispanic scouts from several of the inner-city troops agreed that they got along well with one another -- but they found they had little in common with the rural troops camped around them. Detroit native Carleton Henry, 12, said he preferred hanging around with his own troop -- 2003 -- rather than other scouts because they have "character, more personality." Chicago troop 1819 was markedly more noisy -- with ice cream fights and mock battles -- than rural troops nearby. Plotner, whose troop came from Champaign, Ill., said that he felt uncomfortable sitting behind the Chicago troop at one of the events. "We're a lot more conservative. They had to yell about everything." And the Boy Scouts must also confront ethnic differences that make scouting less attractive to some groups. Asian Americans have other pressures on them, said Michael Lee, 16, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent. Lee said he has been criticized for not earning as much rank as other scouts his age. "People think I'm lazy or slow, but school takes up a lot of my time."